Thursday, October 30, 2008

The “Chinah”

Ricki’s sister is getting married soon, and since her chasan (groom) is of Moroccan-Jewish descent, we attended a “chinah” (pronounced “chee-na”) celebration last night, as per their custom. Not really being experienced in this (like not at all….), I tried to resurrect from my deteriorating middle-aged memory cells whatever I had heard of this in the past. All I came up with was something about dipping hands in various liquids, and the hands remaining stained for days afterwards. I immediately visualized Ricki taking “painted” hands and wiping them on one of her best dresses. So I cornered my neighbor, an important Sephardic Rabbi’s wife, in an effort to get highly needed information: “Does it wash out of clothing????” Her reply: “Gosh I don’t know. Our group of Sephardim doesn’t have this minchag (practice).” So just to play it safe, I dressed Ricki in her least-best good dress (the one she is about to outgrow).
In addition, to add to the interest of the evening, the important women on the groom’s side happen to be in the year of mourning for a relative who died just over a month ago, and they said that they are not allowed to even touch the concoction or its bowl. So my married step-daughter (“Y”) was chosen to do the honors of mixing the chinah, and applying it, albeit having no experience in it. The knowledgeable women would instruct us as we proceeded. [It was probably the first time in history that a fair-skinned, blond, blue-eyed lady had even done this procedure…but Y was a good sport.][O.K., O.K., that’s a stereotype, but ricki’s step-sister does NOT look very Moroccan.]
Most of the evening was spent eating and dancing, with Ricki having a great time playing the drums. (See a picture from yesterday’s post.) Y mixed the chinah early in the evening, and it was not a liquid, but a think paste. I asked what it was concocted of, and they answered “Herbs from India, mixed with perfumes.” Into the paste two gold-white candles were inserted, as well as a few candies.

The actual chinah part of the celebration was short. The bride and groom both came in, dressed in special traditional clothing, Family members picked up trays of fried pastries, and waved them in the air. (I have few doubts about what exacerbated Ricki’s intestinal upset the next day. No doubt she managed to sneak one of those pastries when I wasn’t paying attention….) At this point, gifts where given to the bride and groom from both sets of parents. Then Y, dipping her fingers in the chinah-paste, drew a round circle on the bride’s right palm, as well as the groom’s.

This was covered with a lacy white cover, to prevent it being wiped off.

Then a circle of chinah was placed on the hand of other participants (including myself), but it wasn’t covered, and we tried to keep it on for about a half-hour, which is the time it takes to stain the underlying skin. (And as regards Ricki, I simply warned Y just not to “do” Ricki’s palm.) And the women “warbled” in a high voice “Le le le le le le le”, something I have never even attempted to do. But I was in a sporting mood, had noticed that it was not really that complicated, so I even attempted, satisfactorily, a “warble” myself. (This tickled our bride’s sense of humor.)
So now you know what “chinah” is!

PS. I asked Koby’s relatives the origins of “chinah” celebrations. They only knew it as a sort of “good-luck” ceremony. I concluded that the origns are NOT very Jewish. A quick check at Wikopedia confirmed my suspicions: (under Moslem wedding customs):

“ An old tradition, now rarely observed, involves the women at the ceremony symbolically mourning the loss of the bride by doing the "wedding wail". The bride's dress is an ornate Caftan, and the bride's hands and feet are decorated in intricate lace-like patterns painted using a henna dye.”


frumhouse said...

Very interesting! Thank you for sharing the story and the photos. Mazal Tov!

Jewish Side of Babysitter said...

I've never seen a Chinah before, that is so cool, thanx for putting up pictures.

I checked out onlysimchas Chinah section and I saw some cool pictures there too of what they wear and stuff.

and Mazel Tov!

nmf #7 said...

I had heard once that it signifies the joining of families- as it used to be done right before the wedding ceremony in Yemen. The bride and groom would then press their newly dyed palms to each other to signify that they were now related.